Research: A Look At Various Popular and Noteworthy Female Video Game Characters Part II

Peach – Super Mario / Paper Mario / Super Mario Bro.s etc. etc. etc.

The go to Damsel in Distress – and I couldn’t agree more. Peach is without a doubt a cliché and a trope. She is constantly being capture and needing saving. She plays almost no role in the story except the reward at the end.

I think there are two things to consider with Peach. One – is the Damsel in Distress trope a problem because of its over usage, its nature, or both? In many ways, Peach is one of the originals following the trope in video games and is it fair to blame her for others choosing to mirror her? I would say that it is not and that a primary concern with tropes in general is the fact that they are over used. In excess they become an issue but in moderation actually result in a variety of representations.

However, I would also argue the Damsel in Distress trope by nature is a negative representation, because it places the damsel as an object to be won. So no, Peach has no excuse.

princess peach

At least in the majority of games she is noted to be in, through which her perception is based. However, as a character she appears in a wide assortment of genres and games in which she often takes on less sexist roles.

This article does a good job of explaining some of them.

In Defense of Princess Peach

“But fortunately for fans of the princess, a variety of Mario spin-off games would once again put Peach in the player’s control and also start to develop her as a character. In Super Mario RPG, following her rescue, Peach wasn’t content to sit idly by and plotted to sneak out of her own castle in order to join Mario in saving the world. In the Paper Mario series, Peach is shown to have a bit of a mischievous side as the player is able to take control of the kidnapped princess, reading Bowser’s diary and generally causing trouble for her captors. In the Super Smash Bros. series, Peach shows herself as a capable fighter, and in the various Mario sports games, Peach can definitely hold her own. And while the possible implications of the “vibe” mechanic in Super Princess Peach could warrant their own article, it was still very gratifying to finally see Peach not only get a starring role in her very own game, but also be the one coming to Mario and Luigi’s rescue.”

And this article takes a specific look at Super Princess Peach, where Peach takes on the role of the main playable character and Mario becomes the Damsel in Distress.

Portrayal of Gender in Super Princess Peach

Cortana – Halo 

I could go on about Cortana but I think these articles say it best.

Here are a few quotes that stand out from the first article linked.

“Just because a character looks attractive, in absolutely no way is this ‘objectifying’ them. Consider for a moment the fact that Cortana’s ‘sex appeal’ has never had any effect on the plot, or is in any way a definitive aspect of her character – as a matter of fact, it has never, ever been brought up in the narrative context of the game and I highly doubt that it ever will.”

“It is Cortana’s intellect and resourcefulness that empowers her, not her body.”

“This is a deeply emotional story about an artificial person coming to terms with her mortality and her humanity, not about teasing the male audience with an attractive female to gawk at. Halo 4’s story is very much Cortana’s story, it’s seamlessly interwoven with the core of the narrative and provides a beautifully nuanced, poignant and passionate portrayal of the character.”

“She beats back rampancy and saves John because of the innate trust and loyalty these two characters have for each other, it’s not “oh she’s a character who needs a man”, especially when John is about as emasculated as the action hero male goes. It’s clear from his reaction that John can’t even bear the though of actually living without her when she tells him that she’s not coming with him, he relies on her just as much as she relies on him (if not more)”

“Cortana has her moments of weakness and moments of strength… She doesn’t just “kick ass and win”, nothing about Cortana’s character and story can be simplified to any Hollywood trope”

While I agree with their analysis, I want to pose some questions to play Devil’s Advocate.

If Cortana’s beauty is not necessary to her character, why does it exist? What is the point of having her being so revealing of it does not impact the story or her personality in any way? Is it simply a symptom of Bungie and 343 Studios needing to appeal to their perceived market?

john and cortana

Even though, in Halo 4 especially, a large part of the narrative is the narrative of Cortana’s own struggles, why is she relegated to a secondary role even if she has a thematic presence? What does it say that the role she is relegated to is that of an assistant to a male while she is a female?

Samus Aran – Metroid

This is a character I love for who she is and hate for the perceptions she has gone through.

Early Samus is a bounty hunter we all assume to be male because she is kicking ass and taking names. She is unstoppable, exploring perilous terrain, taking on dozens of enemies, never showing fear, never flinching from danger. And at the end of the beauty that is Metroid, this bounty hunter is revealed as a woman. Shocking to the gaming community she was thought of was championing woman in gaming

Samus showed that a woman could do all the things that men could do as a protagonists, and the game could be just as fun.

Questions started to arise concerning how sexual Samus was without her Power Suit. This article defines some of them

“Inexplicably, this hardened killer has a bikini body: scarless, thin, toned but not intimidatingly muscular. And the player views this body, sans the armor that makes it deadly, as a “reward”. Thus the player switches from sharing agency with Samus to viewing her as a passive object–from being her to watching her, as with Lara Croft in 2013’s Tomb Raider. Samus’s value as a person fades: instead there arises an adolescent male fixation on her sexual difference. Some might claim that Samus’s “reward” outfits are themselves expressions of confident agency. But these screens contradict her reserved personality; and their status as rewards gives them a gratuitous, voyeuristic hue.”

zero suit samus

I take the sexuality of Samus’ body in a different perspective. Instead of it functioning as a reward, I believe – and for me as I played through some of the games – it functions as a reminder that this isn’t a man or a sexually ambiguous character. Nor is this character separated from beauty because of her strength. I found these considerations to be important, because I feel that portraying Samus as sexually pleasing in the zero-suit is a necessary contrast to the appearance in the power suit in order to retain her feminine quality in the video game environment. This feminine quality is what makes her capable of being a positive symbol.

Another aspect of Samus that frustrates me, is the contempt for her portrayal in Metroid: Other M. Here, her emotion and flaws are revealed.

This article describes it as

“the formerly silent character is given voice for the first time, a voice that goes against everything her character once stood for and backtracks on the trails she once blazed.”

It criticizes portraying Samus as having weakness and emotion because it contradicts her strength and power in previous entries. To me, this portrayal serves to deepen her character and make her more realistic. No person is tough 100% of the time both internally and externally. By portraying Samus as emotionally struggling through her actions, but achieving her goals none the less, she becomes more human.

2 thoughts on “Research: A Look At Various Popular and Noteworthy Female Video Game Characters Part II

  1. Thank you very much for your praise of my article, means a lot! I was very happy with that one myself, actually.

    To address this point:

    > “Even though, in Halo 4 especially, a large part of the narrative is the narrative of Cortana’s own struggles, why is she relegated to a secondary role even if she has a thematic presence? What does it say that the role she is relegated to is that of an assistant to a male while she is a female?”

    There are two things I want to say to answer this.

    1) As a first person shooter where you play as a supersoldier, this… is kind of inevitable? It’s not exclusionary however, since you get to design your own Spartan, male or female, to play through the 50 missions of Spartan Ops – the main story of which features about half a dozen major female characters who are either newly introduced or from the novels.

    2) I would absolutely not call Cortana’s role in Halo 4 “secondary” considering the fact that she’s the one who actually defeats the Ur-Didact in the end and saves John, along with the fact that she’s the one who tells you what to do and where to go – the only exception to this being at the beginning of Midnight where her rampant condition spikes and she can’t figure out what to do. Even then, she is the one who comes up with the plan to disable the shield around the Composer.

    She’s not an assistant, she’s literally in charge of him in the sense that she tells him what he needs to do.

  2. So here’s how I see it: Peach agreed, but Nintendo tries to make up for her ‘being ditsy’ in other games. Samus Aran; started off as bad ass, Metroid Other M ruined this, I agree in that light. Apparently the narrative of Samus went from a silent bounty hunter to dependent person in a suit. Then if you go chronologically she becomes strong and confident again by the last Metroid game, so the narrative balances out in the end.

    As for the zero suit well I mean I think its well understood that under heavy armor most people wouldn’t wear jeans and a T-shirt. I mean look at the Spartans- they have the same type of under-suit. Any suit that biologically enhances humans in sci-fi- most of the time is a skin tight suit or is a shapely outer armor, and this applies for men and women. I mean did they have to put a six pack on Batman’s suit? Well they did. Am I bothered? No.

    Cortona’s looks are fine. She is an AI, literally she and most humanoid AI’s in Sci-fi are supposed to look human, and last I checked its not like she’s showing digitized nipples. The look is just more graphically improved since the first Halo, the general style of her character model is the same. So they decided that AI’s don’t wear clothes, so what? Don’t artists draw naked women and are praised for it? I thought women could wear WHATEVER they want, and that artists are FREE to express themselves in whatever way they seem fit. I don’t get offended when Clark Kent rips of his shirt showing his giant box chest and takes off his so-called ‘nerd glasses’ to become Superman. Is that not extortion of a male’s body? What about Chief’s character, from a equality perspective that is a misleading representation that men have no emotions.

    Another note Cortana’s structure and character is very reminiscent of a mother. Master Chief was taken as a child and indoctrinated, his emotions are almost non-existent. Now note in this expansive story she is trying to care for him, guide him and tell him how to be more human. (like a mom)

    If anything this shows the power of a motherly figure on a person who is broken, and how her sacrifice and strong will saved humanity. Note is she just more than just guide- as an AI aboard a cruiser she shoots down ships, she disarms the Covenant bomb, she makes sure there is a way to destroy Halo by staying behind in Halo 2. For an AI I’d say Cortana does a hell of a lot more than just sit there. In most Sci-Fi shows/ games typical AI are just strategists, rather in Halo the main character is an AI, who by the way saved the human race more than once!

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